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Darqueze Dennard opens up about remaining with Bengals on 5th-year option

Dennard is adamant that what we’ve seen of him thus far is not what he’ll ultimately become in the NFL.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals made the call last week to pick up Darqueze Dennard’s fifth-year option, hoping it’s the start of something special.

Special isn’t quite how you’d describe his first three years in the NFL. Most of them have been spent riding the bench or rehabbing an injury, which is why he’s still a bit of an unknown product in the NFL. Despite that, Dennard is now assured a roster spot for the next two seasons and will earn $8,526,000 in 2018, making him one of the higher-paid corners in the NFL. The Bengals will also be paying $9.6 million to fellow corner Dre Kirkpatrick in 2018, as well as $6.66 million to Adam Jones, assuming he’s not cut sooner.

Now entering his fourth season with the Bengals, Dennard is looking to change the script, telling that what we’ve seen of him to this point is nothing close to the player he really is.

“No. Not even close,” said Dennard Monday when asked if the Bengals have seen his full potential yet. “I’ve been frustrated for the last couple of years because I couldn’t get on the field and do what I know I’m capable of doing.”

One of the reasons is Dennard will have a full NFL offseason for just the second time in his career thus far. He missed most of the 2016 offseason due to shoulder injury that knocked him out midway through the 2015 campaign. And then experienced another injury in training camp, his third straight training camp injury.

Having a full offseason to train is crucial to success in the NFL, and Dennard is excited to have a full one this year.

“I have OTAs. I have minicamp. I have training camp,” Dennard said. “I haven’t really had any of that except when I was a rookie. No doubt. It’s the best I’ve felt ever before the start of a season.”

Dennard missed most of the preseason while recovering from an ankle injury, which helped lead to him being on the bench for much of 2016. Even though he’s again projected to be behind Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick on the boundary this year, Dennard still has the chance to battle for a starting spot in the slot, where Josh Shaw and maybe William Jackson III could challenge him. Maybe Dennard will even prove he’s more capable than Jones, though, knowing the Bengals coaches, that will not be easy to accomplish.

Regardless of the circumstance, Dennard is focused on being the best he can be, not who’s ahead of him on the path to getting there. And he’s thankful to have at least two more years in Cincinnati to do so.

“I wasn’t really worried about it. I’m focused on having the best year I can possibly have physically and mentally,” Dennard said of having his fifth year option exercised. “It is a confidence boost, it definitely did. I appreciate the coaching staff and the Brown family.”

Dennard is under contract through the 2018 season before hitting free agency in 2019, if the Bengals don’t extend him, that is. It sounds like he’s got the right mindset to earn a big deal when he signs his next NFL contract, wherever and whenever that may be.